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Planning for the Worst after Divorce—Key Decisions and Documents

As I noted in my blog post about talking to your children about death after your divorce, preparing for death in Western culture is a really difficult topic for almost all of us. After divorce we may become even more aware of our vulnerability and sometimes even more fearful of leaving our children if something should happen to us.

That’s why it’s crucially important to prepare for the (hopefully unlikely) possibility of death after divorce. Before you talk to your children about your plans, you need to prepare. This post offers some guidance in the planning process.

I’m not a lawyer, financial planner or insurance agent, and I can’t say what is right for your specific circumstances. Your attorney will most likely have given you a checklist of items to address after your divorce is finalized, and you can use that as a guide to some of actions you need to take to keep your financial and legal affairs in order.

Beyond following the checklist, though, you’ll need to consider things like how much life insurance you need, what terms you want to include in your will, and who will be responsible for key decisions in the event that you aren’t able to make them for yourself. Some key areas to consider are:

  • Life insurance
  • Will
  • Advance Medical Directive
  • General Guidelines and Contacts

I’ve included brief descriptions of these four areas below. Subsequent posts will discuss each in more detail.

  • Life Insurance: Most divorced moms are familiar with this kind of insurance. It provides a cash payout when the insured person dies. There are several types of life insurance, including term life, whole life, and some hybrids such as universal life. In general, term life is the least expensive option and may be the most practical for divorced breadwinner moms looking to provide a safety net or add to insurance they may have through work.
  • Will: A will is a legal document that specifies what happens after someone dies. It addresses everything from guardianship to distribution of assets and can range from straightforward and relatively simple to highly complex, depending on what kinds of assets you have and your wishes for handling matters after you die. Some divorced moms have created wills when they were married, usually with their former spouse. These will need to be updated. Others may not have ever made a will; I strongly encourage you to do so after divorce.
  • Advance Medical Directives: These documents include living wills, power of attorney, and health-care proxy documents. The living will specifies what medical treatment you want (or don’t want) in case you are incapacitated. The health-care proxy designates who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you can’t make your wishes known. And the power of attorney is similar but provides for additional capabilities for the person to whom power is given. These documents are often prepared in conjunction with a will.
  • General Guidelines and Contacts: In addition to the formal documents and preparations, it’s often helpful to put together a guide for your executor and children about who to contact if something should happen to you and your wishes for any kind of service, burial, and the like. This can be a simple list with a couple of names and phone numbers and the name of your church or spiritual guide. Or it might be a longer list with the outlines of a service, whether or not you have made funeral arrangements, burial or cremation, favorite songs or readings, etc. Your children and other involved adults will appreciate having some guidelines to help them during a time of grief, and your list will make sure no one is forgotten or overlooked.
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